Discovery Parks Lake Bonney – Barmera, South Australia

shady outdoor setting
A perfect shady spot for a drink at the end of the day

As term 1 hurtles towards its end parents may be thinking about booking a short holiday during the break. At least, that’s what we do.

Invariably we spend time umming and aahing and not going anywhere, but, miraculously, last October saw us head up to the Riverland for a few days away before school went back. Not having done really anything in the way of road trips, we were anxious to choose somewhere that was not too far away and I had a Discovery Parks membership that I had won that I was keen to use. 

Because Andy and I prefer not to go to bed at 7pm, it was essential also to choose accommodation where we had two separate bedrooms. Our really positive experience at the Port Elliot Big4 in 2015 pretty much sealed the deal, in terms of heading to a caravan park and splashing the cash for a two bedroom cabin.

I’ll wrap up some other useful hints and tips for Barmera in another post. This one – all about the park itself.

The name gives it away, that the park sits on the shores of Lake Bonney. This means that there are plenty of water-based activities available – there are water trampolines and various water sports equipment to hire and if boating, fishing, waterskiing etc etc are your thing then you’re well catered for. The park also has a swimming pool – and despite the weather not being ideal for swimming, Master 5 made sure we checked it out. 

For children there is a playground, a jumping pillow (this appears to be a KEY piece of equipment in terms of how good a holiday you have) and there is also a games room, with a pool table, air hockey and a couple of video games. Despite the fact we were there in October when you might expect some sunny weather, we had one very damp morning and playing a couple of games of pool as some down time was just perfect!

shady garden
Go for a walk and check out some of the amazing gardens in the park

The park itself is home to quite a few static caravans and (I’m guessing) permanent residents. Some of these residences have really beautiful, well maintained gardens. Nearby Renmark is home to an annual rose festival and many of the static caravans had absolutely stunning roses. Clearly, there is something very special in the soil in the area! Besides looking good, this helps the park look really well maintained.

We stayed in a ‘standard holiday unit’ – and while I took photos of the interior, you’re better off looking at the Discovery Parks website because they’re better quality photos (there’s a surprise!) and they are totally true to what you get. Yes – the interior is a little beige and feels a little 1970s, but our unit was very clean and (critically) the shower was hot with good power. Seriously – all I need for a holiday to be good is a hot, high pressure shower and a clean space!

The park is reasonably close to quite a busy road and our cabin was on the road side of the park. We’re pretty heavy sleepers so the odd noise of a truck going past didn’t bother us but if you are a light sleeper, I suggest you look at a park map and choose accommodation closer to the lake (I think if you’re camping you’ll be OK on that count anyway).

apricot rose
October was perfect for rose spotting

Each of the cabins has an outdoor setting and it was really lovely at the end of the day to sit outside, have a drink and chew the fat.  There are onsite bbqs which is great if you want to have a night off dining out without resorting to cooking a serious meal inside the cabin. I recommend reading the welcome manual as we thought we had to feed the BBQ 20c pieces and only discovered after the fact that they’re actually free!

Crucially, the staff at the park were really friendly and offered good advice when it came to both coffees and evening meals. 

We really enjoyed our break at Lake Bonney and while I probably wouldn’t want to be there in the height of summer (or, indeed, in the depths of winter), I think it makes a perfect destination for the break between terms 1 and 2 and that between terms 3 and 4.

If you’ve been on other great short breaks in SA (that can fulfil our two bedroom requirement!) let me know in the comments as we’re determined to take the time to explore a bit more of our state!

Lake Bonney Caravan Park
Lakeside Drive
Barmera SA 5345

Cafe Olive, Seacliff

Sausage roll
Sausage roll, chips and a small hand – no respect for the art of the blog!

date of visit: Monday 16 January 2017

During the school holidays I had this idea that it would be a great opportunity to visit loads of new places with Master 6.  After all, we had six long weeks to fill and various forms of social media were full of parents (mostly mothers) bemoaning the extended stretch of time and the traumatic requirement to entertain children.

I can only assume that these people have a very different idea of what constitutes ‘entertainment’ to me. I did some preparation before the holidays – I will ‘fess up to that – but by the end of the break, we most definitely were not running out of things to do (in fact, we had to put in a bit of an effort to use up some vouchers I’d bought!).

Master 6 loves the beach so one warm morning we headed off. We were planning on hitting the beach we always go to, but I decided, last minute, that we should go to a ‘new’ beach – variety being the spice of life and all that.

Seacliff is not exactly new or undiscovered but we had our swim and then headed up to the Esplanade to grab something to eat. Master 6 spotted the pub but our last experiences there have been pretty average (to say the least!) so I steered him towards Cafe Olive, right next door.

It’s a very cute, airy cafe – there are seats on the footpath, as well as inside in an enclosed verandah AS WELL as inside the building proper. There are bench seats, normal tables and even a SWING.

It’s green, it’s cool, it’s casual – it feels really beach-y and creates a very distinctive vibe from the pub next door.

A lot of the cafe’s products are made in house. Master 6 ordered himself an iced chocolate (decidedly, the largest drink known to man – far bigger than his head) and one of the house-made sausage rolls, served along with chips and salad. I ordered the spinach and feta tart.

Spinach & feta tart
Spinach & feta tart

You’ll see from my photo that there might be an argument for the tart suffering from the dreaded soggy bottom but I love pastry so much that didn’t bother me. What I did like was the balance between cheese and spinach was spot on. So often, you order some spinach and cheese pastry and it’s overwhelmingly (and sometimes inedibly!) salty. Not so here!

The sausage roll was also delicious – however, Master 6, by now sated by the iced chocolate, had a bit of a wobbly moment because it didn’t look exactly as he’d been expecting. He had been hoping for one (or possibly more) of the bite size sausage rolls, just like the ones produced by his grandmother and our family friend, Trevor. This was just too big!

Of course, this didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the chips or the salad.

I was really impressed to find a venue with so many goodies made in-house – especially things like pastries which so many places just buy in. The coffee was good, the iced chocolate was rated excellent (this may be due to size …).

Definitely a venue I’d head back to. In winter, it would be stunning to sit in the warm and watch the sea!

Cafe Olive Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe Olive
1/220 The Esplanade
Seacliff SA 5049
phone: (08) 8296 8824

Clover at Howard Vineyard

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date of visit: Sunday 5 February 2017

disclaimer: I was a guest of Howard Vineyard

It’s been six years since I last visited (and ate) at Howard Vineyard. Six. I know this because I went there with a couple of friends, one of whom was visiting from England, and a three month old who had just discovered his voice. We had a very pleasant lunch, punctuated by a shouty baby. It was mid-week and hopefully we didn’t disturb too many other diners.

Although I’ve been on many visits to the Hills since, we’ve not made it quite as far as Nairne on many occasions. However, since late last year, Howard has been on my radar due to the newly released Blanc de Noir. I’m a big fan of sparkling wine and have wanted to try it.

So when Howard Vineyard dropped me a press release, announcing the return of Heather Day (former Masterchef contestant and the brains behind HeyDay butter) to the Clover restaurant kitchen, along with an invitation to lunch ‘yes’ was a very obvious response.

Andy and I left a disgruntled Master 6 (‘why can’t I go to lunch too?’) with my parents and headed for the Hills on a rather overcast afternoon.  The Clover restaurant is indoors but does have a large outdoor seating area, which on this particular Sunday was hosting a group of 60 (!) – so we were very pleased to be tucked away inside.

Naturally I had already sussed out the short menu online. The philosophy is seasonality, with many ingredients foraged or sourced from the kitchen garden. The menu’s focus is predominantly Asian with dishes designed to share. There are just three small plates, three large plates and three sides. Personally, I find short menus a LOT more reassuring than long ones. I eat everything so it’d be a big call (or a rubbish menu!) to find myself in a position of not wanting to eat anything. A short menu is indicative of a competent kitchen that knows its limits and would rather produce a small number of different dishes well and consistently, than attempting a cast of thousands.

That said – if you are a picky eater, you should definitely do your homework prior to heading to Howard!

For groups of four or more there is a ‘feed me’ option which is just $49 per person. However, as a group of two, we ordered one small plate and two large plates. We did consult with our waitress about how much we should order and she said this should be fine but if we were needing more, extra plates wouldn’t be a problem.

First out, however, were our drinks – Clover Sauvignon Blanc for Andy and a glass of the Blanc de Noir for me. You can’t taste the Blanc de Noir at the cellar door but you can buy yourself a glass of it. I cannot recommend that course of action highly enough!

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Next came the dumplings. They are prawn and pork and you receive ten with a lovely sharp and sour soy and shallot dressing. The dumplings were packed full (always very important – no one likes an explosion of steaming hot water on biting in!), with good flavour and I loved the dressing. The sourness of it, combined with the saltiness of the soy, made the whole lot incredibly moreish. Andy thought the dressing was too sour, so that the sourness obliterated other flavours. I beg to differ on that one.

For our large plates we had gone for the BBQ pork and the Cambodian beef vermicelli salad. The other alternative is the Major Tom’s spicy chicken (described as ‘with a sweet and sour glaze’). One look at the words ‘sweet and sour’ was enough to put me off that one. 

However, we were VERY fortunate, because a little mix up saw us receive the Major Tom’s chicken instead of the beef. We were told that as the chicken is the most popular dish, the kitchen would like us to try it while our beef was prepared.

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What a happy, happy accident because that chicken was soooo good. I’m not sure how it’s been done (and frankly, why spoil the magic?) but it’s almost like the chicken has either had a very light batter and then fry or the skin has been left on and crisped up. Either way, you have a bowl full of beautifully moist chicken with an almost crispy outer, in a delicious sauce, with some gentle background heat, that is not at all anything like I would imagine when I hear ‘sweet and sour glaze’. It’s topped with bean sprouts for extra crunch and some fresh chilli for extra zing. If you only try one dish at Clover, it might as well be this one. I can see why it is the most popular dish.

The BBQ pork is served almost san choy bow style – with lettuce cups, herbs, cucumber, crushed peanuts and what Andy described as a BBQ sauce. The pork was lovely and moist but for me, this was my least favourite dish as it lacked the flavour punch of the others. Andy disagreed.

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Finally, the Cambodian beef, presented on top of the noodles, with herbs, carrot, bean sprouts, peanuts and crispy shallots. Alongside it, a really refreshing dipping sauce redolent with fish sauce and chilli. I loved this dish – and not just because I love noodles. But also I loved the combination of flavours and textures, especially the additional heat from the dipping sauce. It was very easy to eat and adjust each mouthful as you went. I was very careful to ensure I polished off as many of those crispy shallots as I could!

By this point, it transpired that our original order would have been enough for the two of us. Despite a couple of good attempts at polishing off the chicken, we ended up leaving some on each plate. So if two are dining together, I recommend one small and two large plates.

We finished off the meal by sharing the sorbet – the flavour of the day was lemon and it was like eating frozen lemon curd with the extra fresh lemon zest. It was a delicious combination of super sweet and super tart (and super lemony) all at once. The sorbet was not at all icy – it was almost creamy with a stretchiness to it. It was also a MASSIVE portion. Neither of us would have been able to eat one on our own and we even left quite a lot.

We then headed over to the bar to taste through the wines. At this point, the folly of the sorbet became obvious. Our palates were shot with sweet, lemony flavours – and guess what? Not only did they swamp the wines, they really didn’t work with them at all. My advice? Taste wine first, eat second. Or eat, taste wine and then eat sorbet. 

Although this isn’t a piece about wines – I do want to point out here that Howard Vineyard is one of the few wineries that makes a straight Cabernet Franc (well, actually, they make two). Cabernet Franc is often found in blends (with Cab Sav and Merlot – it is one of the six grape varieties allowed in Bordeaux) but shines on its own in a couple of regions in France’s Loire Valley. It has a stalkiness to it which I find very attractive and I wish there was more straight CF to be had.

So at Howard Vineyard you get to try some lovely wine (my two picks being the Blanc de Noir and the Clover Cabernet Franc) and you get to eat some tasty food which sings with freshness, texture and layers of flavour.

The only down side? At present, Clover is only open on a Sunday, between 12 and 3 and bookings are recommended. Even with a huge party in on Sunday, both the kitchen and the front of house staff handled the load with (apparent!) ease. And that speaks volumes for both how well organised things are and the calibre of the staff themselves.

Howard Vineyard Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Clover at Howard Vineyard
Lot 1, 53 Bald Hills Road, Nairne
South Australia 5252
cellar door: (08) 8188 0203